BROOKSVILLE — As a parent of a daughter with Asperger's syndrome, Laura Recco has had to deal with the effects of a lot of bullying over the years in the school system.
Recco says her daughter has been picked on, called names, spit on and had water thrown at her. She worries about going to school.
Recco had a simple message for a group gathered Thursday night at Central High School: "Kids need to understand that not everyone is the same."
The comments came as part of the Hernando County School District's first town hall meeting on bullying, a lightly attended affair featuring only a few public comments.
Roughly three dozen people, including school employees, dotted the auditorium.
The forum featured a host of speakers, including district and school administrators, members of the district's anti-bullying committee, teachers as well as law enforcement representatives.
They spoke extensively about the districts efforts to police and prevent bullying, raise awareness and educate everyone about the district's rules and regulations.
The district officials touched on a new cyber-bullying law that allows school officials to take action when online bullying disrupts a child's education. School officials noted that bullying had been upgraded from a Level 2 to a Level 3 offense in the district, meaning it brings harsher punishments.
Superintendent Lori Romano said she thinks it is important to alter the way kids talk about bullying.
"I challenge you to change the conversation from bullying to 'How can we raise our children to better communicate, to better get along with one another, to know what it's like to work together in a group?' " Romano said.
Vince La Borante, a social studies teacher at West Hernando Middle School, reassured those in attendance that teachers are vigilant for signs of bullying.
"We do have our eyes and our ears constantly open," La Borante said. "When we see kids hurt, we also hurt. We are committed to giving our kids a safe and caring environment in our schools."
Danny Valentine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.